Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Vanessa Wijngaarden

The Wenner-Gren Foundation is excited to share the trailer and blog post from Vanessa Wijngaarden who in 2017 received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on Meeting ‘the Other’ In Maasailand: How We See Them, How They See Us.

Trailer Maasai Speak Back from Vanessa Wijngaarden on Vimeo.

Meeting ‘the Other’ In Maasailand: How We See Them, How They See Us

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

This film project involved the use of material filmed in Tanzania in 2012 (Research Permit No. 2010-343-NA-2010-174, ), as well as the collection of new material. The Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) granted Research Permit No. 2018-544-NA-2018-211 for this latter phase. Dr. George Mutalemwa of St. Augustine University of Tanzania, Mwanza operated as a local research collaborator. Although the application for the research permit was already submitted December 14, 2017 and followed up on in the subsequent months, the permit was only obtained November 8, 2018 (valid until Oct 25, 2019). In line with the Immigration Act of the Tanzanian state, this research permit is only valid in combination with a Residence Permit Class C. Although I had previously executed research in Tanzania from 2010-2012, and for that purpose had obtained a Residence Permit Class C without any difficulties, the new government of Tanzania seems to have a less open policy towards foreigners and increased the complexity of immigration procedures. This led to a further delay in obtaining the permissions, but in November 2018 the Residence Permit (No. RPC11110195) was nevertheless obtained.

Filming in Tanzania was carried out in the Arusha region from November to December 2018. I was received with enthusiasm by the community, where I have lived intermittently and counted as a member of the village and local church for the past nine years. In cooperation with the village leader and several representatives (balozi or ɨlbálosini) of the community, a letter of consent was written in English as well as Swahili, in which the agreement between me and the community with regard to the participation in the project and dissemination of the audio-visual material is outlined. This letter was signed and approved with consensus by the rest of the community. In cooperation with Paulo Ngulupa, re-visited members of the community in their circular villages (boma or ɨnkaŋitíe). We first approached the families as a group, showing material we shot of their villages being visited by tourists in 2012. For many community members it was a great surprise and joy to watch themselves and their family in audio-visual material shot such a long time ago.

As the Maasai society is very hierarchical in terms of age and gender relationships, it is hard for anyone but the most highest ranking person present to speak in response to the presented images and questions. I thus decided to approach the people featuring in the videos individually with audio-visual clips in which they themselves featured, providing translations of the Dutch tourists’ conversations in these clips, and asking accompanying questions. In this fashion I visited and filmed 28 community members (8 men and 20 women), executing interviews ranging from 30 minutes to over 2 hours in length. In addition, my research assistant and I interviewed each other in order to reflect on the process of research and filmmaking. The community members provided their considerations and interpretations with regard to their interactions with the tourists, and recorded video messages to send to them. This material was shot with a Sony HDR-AX2000 AVCHD camera. In addition, we used a Sony HDR-CX405 4K AVCHD handycam to document the research and filming processes, also from the perspective of the research assistant.

The end of the month of December 2018 and the month of January 2019 were dedicated to re-visiting the Dutch tourists that were part of the original footage from 2012. All tourist groups I contacted responded positively to the invitation to participate in the follow-up project. Most tourists were visited as a group, while two tourists were interviewed individually. In total, 18 tourists participated, who were filmed during six visits at their homes all over the Netherlands. In preparation of each of the visits, I selected the most interesting segments of the respective tourists’ interactions in 2012, and presented these in combination with the accompanying translations, film material of the Maasai counterparts reacting to the scenes, as well as the personal video messages the relevant Maasai had recorded for them. I filmed the sessions, which took 2.5 to 4 hours each. Most of the Dutch participants changed their ideas of themselves and the Maasai, and many were deeply touched and even emotional as a result of the Maasai’s responses and explanations. All agreed with the purpose of the research and film, and signed the consent forms for use of the audio-visual material.

The total of material collected consists of 13 hours of village visit interactions of the main characters shot in 2012. This is supplemented by 40 hours of filmed cultural tourism interactions of other research participants, and 100 hours of other material shot at the Maasai location, both of which are valuable as B-roll material. The Maasai interviews undertaken in 2018 consist of 43 hours, and the tourist interviews undertaken in 2018/2019 consists of 20 hours. In addition, with the handycam 6 hours were filmed in Maasailand and the Netherlands, which are useful as B-roll and for future reflexive analysis. The total of 76 hours of A-roll material was logged, transcribed and translated during the months of February till June. In addition, logging of the B-roll material was finalized, and several paper edits were constructed. The months of July till October 2019 I dedicated to learning Adobe Premiere Pro (I previously worked with Avid Media Composer) and to create the rough cut. The COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa (starting March 26, 2020) and my resulting forced emigration to Europe (April 26. 2020), the project suffered some delays in the fine-cut stage.

The final film is a feature length documentary (106 minutes) and consists of five chapters (the first being structured as a hook), a bridge, a conclusion and mid-credit scenes. Every chapter evolves around the visit of a different tourist group at a different circular village and features two or three small storylines. The storyline as well as the visual aspects of the film, which playfully feature the differences and parallels in the landscapes and living spaces of the Maasai and Dutch, investigate how relationships across difference are possible, in fact, contrast and continuity are presented as constantly entangled. Essentially, the film explores how we may deal with difference and inequality, and the Dutch as well as Maasai reflections on poverty, hunger, honesty, hospitality, greed, forgiveness and trust, are presented as in conversation with each other. This stimulates the viewer to reflect on the narratives (s)he holds about ‘the other’ and ‘the self’ and in how far (s)he is satisfied with these ideas, adding another layer of reflection.

Stay tuned for more information about the release date of Meeting ‘the Other’ In Maasailand: How We See Them, How They See Us.